A Night Out in Cocktail City, Utsunomiya

Utsunomiya is nationally recognized as a city of “gyoza” (Japanese pot stickers), and this January took home the title of “Top Annual Gyoza Purchase in Japan” for the first time in three years. However, Utsunomiya is also a “Cocktail City.”

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The Bar Culture of Utsunomiya City

There are several economy boosting “cocktail cities” across the nation, but Utsunomiya first began its activities as a cocktail city in the late 1980s. An Utsunomiya bartender took the overall championship in the 14th National Bartender Competition in 1987, and from there, an Utsunomiya City bartender was national champion for four years in a row (’88, ’89, and ’90). From then on, the phrase “Cocktail City, Utsunomiya” was established.

Following these events, the number of bars in Utsunomiya City gradually increased. Currently, it is said that there are several hundred bars within the city, but the exact number is unknown. In 1999, an “Utsunomiya Cocktail Club” made up of Utsunomiya City bar owners was born. Comprised of volunteers aiming to further advance Utsunomiya’s bar culture, the club currently includes 33 member bars.

 

A Cocktail Carnival with a Variety of Events

The Utsunomiya Cocktail Club has expanded their activities to such areas as tourism support and liquor product development.

The “Utsunomiya Cocktail,” developed under the club’s supervision and currently bottled and sold as an official product, is something you don’t see elsewhere in Japan. This product was created with the cooperation of local liquor wholesale companies and uses local fruits, and was produced entirely by local businesses from the planning stages to sales. It is currently being used as an Utsunomiya City souvenir and gift. May 13th is “Cocktail Day,” and the club holds a cocktail event called “Utsunomiya Cocktail Carnival” every May on Sunday afternoon at an outdoor venue in the city.

 

Original Cocktails

The Utsunomiya Cocktail Club also premiered the non-alcoholic cocktail “Handle Keeper” in December of 2012, in an effort to combat drunk driving. This cocktail was first created when the Tochigi Police approached the club to raise awareness for the “handle keeper movement,” which calls for drinkers to designate a driver before drinking in order to avoid drunk driving. This cocktail is comprised of yellow lemon milk, well known in Tochigi Prefecture, and blue syrup, mixed to form the green “go” color of a signal light. This January, they also announced a new cocktail using Tochigi Prefecture’s strawberry “tochi otome” with the cooperation of JA ZEN-NOH Tochigi (Utsunomiya City) and Kirin Beer Marketing Co., Ltd. Tochigi Branch (Same). There are alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, and with the theme “escort a lady to a bar,” aims to make bars more approachable for women who are not fond of liquor. Other than these cocktails, original Utsunomiya cocktails created based on Utsunomiya City such as “Marronnier Leaf (Japanese horse chestnut leaf),” “Big Tree (large ginkgo tree),” and “Kamagawa Promenade (Kamagawa)” can be enjoyed at Utsunomiya Cocktail Club member bars.

 

Hospitality in the Utsunomiya Night Scene

The bar culture was originally born of foreign influence, but has now developed into a distinctly Japanese style, and there are many different types of bars in Utsunomiya City. If you visit the Utsunomiya night scene, why not try stepping into a bar? You’ll be greeted by a hospitality that is unique to each of the bartenders.

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